observations and opinion
We have lived now some time without Jack Bauer. When he wandered off into the dusty horizon at the end of “Day 8” there was little else that could be expected of Jack – having saved and brought down Presidents, wired friends’ nipples with electrical cord, slit open the guts of a bad guy to retrieve a SIM card, driven multiple U.S-built SUVs into oblivion and repeatedly chosen the wrong women, Jack deserved a tranquil retirement. Alas, he won’t get it it. Word is that Jack will return in the Spring of 2014 in a twelve hour series which is not, oddly, being called “12.” So we can expect to see “Jack is Back” on our computers and TVs soon.
I am delighted, because I loved Jack. His mirthless humour. His goat like stare. His willingness to strangle unpleasant work colleagues. No doubt, I would be slightly nervous working with Jack Bauer, but I sure wish the guy worked for me.
In all likelihood more than one Master’s thesis has examined the character and impact of Jack Bauer. I haven’t read any of them, nor will I be writing one. Yet it is interesting to reflect on why this character took such a grip on the zeitgeist, why he came to mean something to so many different people, why there are bracelets with the letters “WWJBD” – what would Jack Bauer do? There are strands of character which wind their way through Jack which the modern man or woman yearn to contain, or at least, to cling to in another:
Earnestness. Utterly devoid of irony, Jack is permanently sincere. It is difficult to remember when his appealingly blank face was ever clouded with the look of someone snide; when did he ever utter a sarcastic word? Jack means what he says. Which may be why he doesn’t say much.
Competence. The guy is good at his job. Really good. Crew-of-the-Starship-Enterprise good. He speaks multiple languages, flies multiple aircraft, knows his way around a circuit board, can break your arm with a can of tuna and is able to control his breathing enough to ward off the effects of nerve gas. Or whatever. Who trained the guy? That’s the million dollar question.
Credulity. Jack relies upon his instincts but not necessarily his analysis. In this, he is humble and likeable. Doubt creases his forehead, but not doubt in those he trusts (Chloe, basically) but rather doubt in his own computational skills. Jack is never more at ease than when following the lead of someone else, never less at ease if that is someone he thinks duplicitous.
Fitness. I mean, really, what is there to say about this? Age is his only natural enemy.
And yet, he is wounded. Jack has suffered so much, is so damned sad and has lost everything he cherishes, one’s heart goes out to him. This tragic streak has widened and deepened in the decade since he first struggled with the middle-class troubles of a man who had fallen in love with a co-worker, a man who could not manage his teenaged daughter. And with the exception of Kimmie, who disappeared into off-screen safety, anyone loved by Jack Bauer has been slaughtered.
The question arises how it is Jack Bauer’s character has formed into something so admirable. Is it because he’s so buff? Or because he’s really a Canadian? Whatever makes him so super-human, a recent piece in the New York Times suggests that Jack can’t keep this up indefinitely:
If we don’t sleep well, we may be allowing the very things that cause neural degeneration to pile up unchecked…
Even at the relatively more benign end — the all-nighter or the extra-stressful week when you caught only a few hours a night — sleep deprivation, as everyone who has experienced it knows, impedes our ability to concentrate, to pay attention to our environment and to analyze information creatively. “When we’re sleep-deprived, we can’t integrate or put together facts,” as Dr. Veasey puts it.
But there is a difference between the kind of fleeting sleep loss we sometimes experience and the chronic deprivation that comes from shift work, insomnia and the like. In one set of studies, soon to be published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the Veasey lab found that while our brains can recover quite readily from short-term sleep loss, chronic prolonged wakefulness and sleep disruption stresses the brain’s metabolism. The result is the degeneration of key neurons involved in alertness and proper cortical function and a buildup of proteins associated with aging and neural degeneration.
So there it is: Jack Bauer must be getting enough sleep, in between annual all-nighters. He’s had a few years off, so hopefully the next installment finds him in fighting trim
And of course, Chloe will be there too. I love her even more than Jack.